“We no longer walk in separate lines, we walk together”: involving families to strengthen the protection assets of adolescent girls in humanitarian contexts – World


Early Findings and Recommendations from the Sibling Support Program for Adolescent Girls in Emergencies (SSAGE)

Research paper


Gender-based violence (GBV) programming for adolescent girls in humanitarian settings often seeks to mitigate risk and build protective assets at the individual level. Although these approaches are essential, it is also well known that the lives of adolescent girls are strongly influenced by those around them. The household is the primary ecosystem in which the lives of adolescent girls unfold, presenting both risks and opportunities for physical and mental health, resilience, gender equity and protection from violence.

The Sirbling Support for Adolescent Girls in Emergencies (SSAGE) program was designed collaboratively by the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), Mercy Corps, and Washington University in St. Louis to challenge intergenerational cycles of violence and prevent future violence against adolescent girls through a novel, gender-transformative whole-family support approach. Since 2020, the SSAGE program has been implemented with conflict-affected communities in Nigeria, Niger and Jordan. SSAGE is complemented by mixed-methods research to understand successes and challenges in terms of program contextualization and implementation, as well as outcomes related to gender equity, protection, family functioning, health mental and psychosocial well-being. Preliminary findings from this research suggest several key areas where donors, policymakers, and humanitarian actors can harness the positive influence of household members to strengthen the protective assets of adolescent girls. Since its launch in 2020, the SSAGE program has reached a total of 1,353 participants in Nigeria, Niger and Jordan: 390 adolescent girls, 386 male siblings, 295 female guardians and 282 male caregivers.

Main findings

  • Preliminary results from the three program sites suggest improved family functioning, attitudes toward gender equity, and knowledge of the harmful effects of GBV. In Jordan, SSAGE participants noted better sibling relationships, better communication between caregivers and children, and a more equal division of household labour.

  • SSAGE participants in Jordan appreciated the SSAGE program’s unique approach of involving the whole family, especially how it gave parents and guardians a better understanding of the challenges faced by adolescent girls and boys.

  • Participants reported improvements in mental health and resilience, with the majority (77%) of adolescent girls surveyed in Jordan reporting improved mental health and all reporting improvements in resilience. The majority of male and female caregivers (68.8% and 71.4%, respectively) also reported mental health improvements, while only half of male siblings reported mental health improvements and resilience.

  • Among survey participants in Jordan, female caregivers were the only group for which the majority (71.4%) reported improvements in attitudes towards gender equity. Reported parental support improved for the majority of female and male caregivers, particularly for female caregiver support for sons (78.6%) and male caregiver support for daughters (68.8%).

Recommendations Recommendations to Donors

  • Expand GBV funding beyond girl-only programs to interventions that include household members who can effectively support building the protective assets of adolescent girls.

  • Ensure that the involvement of men and boys in GBV programs does not remove targeted funding for women and girls, including GBV prevention and response services.

  • Provide flexible multi-year funding to allow sufficient time for data collection, evidence generation and programmatic activities aimed at changing gender equity norms and behaviors that are time consuming and can be difficult to achieve measure.

Recommendations for decision makers

  • Prioritize the third goal of the GBV Call to Action Roadmap, which calls for integrating gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls into humanitarian policy initiatives. Policy makers also need to move beyond mainstreaming and focus on promoting empowered and gender-transformative approaches to GBV programming.

  • Align GBV policies with child protection principles, as outlined in the Primary Prevention Framework for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, which includes guidance on primary prevention of violence at the child protection level. households.

  • Address risk and protective factors for violence against adolescent girls in national GBV policies and ensure both primary prevention in addition to service delivery and response.

Recommendations to humanitarian actors

  • Ensure that gender-transformative and family-wide approaches respond to the needs and priorities of adolescent girls and address topics in a context-specific way.

  • Devote sufficient time and effort to community contextualization of program content, including mapping adolescent girls’ social spheres and influences to ensure that the right household members are involved in program activities.

  • Implement contextualized evidence-based programming, with sufficient time and resources to collect and use data that meaningfully informs programming.

  • Include shorter-term, more easily measured outcomes, such as changes in knowledge, to assess whether a program is on track to address more deeply rooted attitudes and behaviors. Humanitarian actors need to have realistic expectations of what can be achieved and what can be measured in a short time.


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